I’m on the back of a boda-boda motorcycle taxi, heading uphill, when my driver, Nuru, points out the drive-way leading to the house of Tanzania’s former prime minister and current presidential hopeful, Edward Lowassa. Not even five seconds after we pass the turn off the tarmac ends, turning into a bumpy, dirt road.
The air becomes much cooler as Nuru takes me up into the mountains which surround Monduli, Tanzania, over 40 kms from Arusha. I’ve been invited to speak to students at Orkeeswa secondary school about journalism. Having already given a few media literacy talks to Tanzanian youth since arriving in Arusha, I’m beginning to enjoy being a public speaker.
My first talk was sometime last year when I was invited by The School of St. Jude to address high school students in Usa River, over 30 kms from Arusha about possible careers in the media. I took this as an opportunity to try inspiring youth to consider the option of pursuing careers as journalists, stressing the important role media plays in a democracy.
After my talk, four students approached me asking if I could give them more insight into the life of a journalist. I agreed and gave them my contact information. I met with three-of-the-four a few weeks later at Clocktower roundabout in downtown Arusha. The administrator at School of St. Jude gave them permission to come into Arusha, during a day off from class, and meet me. I introduced them to the routine of a journalist. How to look for stories.
I led them from Clocktower, down Sokoine Road, to the Arusha public library. We stopped so I could point out what a terrible state this institution has been left in, abandoned by the government, and how a story on the state of education in Tanzania could be told through the lens of a public library, where students should be able to sit, study and borrow and a wide range of books.
From the library, I took them to the river which passes through town. They could all see the massive amount of garbage strewn everywhere along the river bed. A veritable environmental story, if I’ve ever seen one. I mentioned how it’s a journalist’s responsibility to do civic stories about how to improve life for every resident in a city, town or village.
To speed things up a bit, I took them to Soko kuu, Arusha’s central market. There, I showed them a good public health story. One which was obvious due to a massive rubbish dump in a parking lot alongside the market. The fumes of burning piles of trash burned the nostrils, as kids passed by us, walking home in their beige school uniforms.
None of this tour was planned out a bit. I just took them on a walk and discovered these stories as we passed through downtown on the way to Mambo Jambo Radio, where I was working as a trainer and mentor to journalists at the time. Our last stop was at the Uhuru Torch, near the Arusha Declaration Museum. I couldn’t take them inside for lack of time and funds, but I assured them such an important part of their country’s history was played out inside those walls. Over the last few years, a lack of care and appreciation of this history has led it to deteriorate almost beyond repair.
More of a feature story, mind you, but I thought it was important that stories like these could help Tanzanians understand the importance of this East Africa nation’s rich culture. There’s even an artist-run workshop inside which I did a story about during my first few weeks in Arusha, over one year ago. The very last stop before reaching the radio station, where the aspiring reporters came face-to-face with real Tanzanian broadcasters, was Sheikh Amri Abeid Memorial Stadium.
The soccer stadium doubles as a shelter at night for homeless youth in Arusha. I wanted these students who’ve benefited tremendously from a free, charity-funded, education to understand the plight of Tanzanian street kids. I think this was the part of the tour which helped them the most to realize the commitment journalists must make to those less fortunate in society, helping tell their stories.
When we reached Mambo Jambo Radio I looked each one in the eye and saw some fierce future journalists. Those who hopefully won’t be bought off by corrupt leaders, and will understand how to tell stories about human rights and good governance. A few weeks later I spoke to a group of female students from MWEDO girls school outside of Arusha. I also took them on the same tour as this first group of students. Not long after that I was asked by a friend to conduct a media literacy talk on gender equality and interviewing skills with a group from The Girls Foundation of Tanzania, or TGFT.
Coming back to where I started this story, I was introduced to all Orkeeswa students at an outdoor assembly. Tanzania’s green, yellow, black and blue flag fluttered in the wind behind me. In the library five minutes later, twenty-or-so students dragged their chairs into a semi-circle and sat down as I introduced myself: “Hello, my name is Adam Bemma. I’m a journalist from Canada living in Tanzania.”
I really hope I’ll receive more opportunities to speak so I can try to inspire youth across sub-Saharan Africa to consider careers in the media. Maybe then there’ll be real change across the continent as a new class of disciplined, ethical journalists come to prominence, holding government accountable. That would be the most rewarding achievement for me, watching as African youth rise up and call for real change using the fourth estate.
After my talk at Orkeeswa, four students, again, approached me. All extended their hands to thank me for taking the time to come and speak to them. I proposed to their teacher, a friend of mine, that she bring all four into Arusha sometime in the next few weeks and I take them on a tour of the city. To see it through a journalist’s eyes.
“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it,” wrote Afro-French post-colonial philosopher Frantz Fanon.